The following post was written by TDWA member, Rachael Johnston. Rachael is a dog walker, and the manager of operations at Rover Achiever, which serves the Annex, Little Italy and Seaton Village. In addition to years of dog walking experience, Rachael is also an accredited dog trainer.
Contrary to popular belief not all dogs get along. Just like people dislike the company of certain individuals from time to time so too do our dogs (even ones with a solid social history) sometimes dislike the company of other dogs.
They may not like another dog’s style of play or a rude pushy greeting. Some dogs are nervous of certain dogs or certain breeds for various reasons or can be agitated by the presence of a dog or a certain breed. Some dogs get upset if a dog tries to steal their toys or treats etc. And just like people – our dogs sometimes argue with each other. The difference is that dogs tend to argue by growling, snarling, snapping, wrestling, pinning each other – generally being loud, rough and very unpleasant to one another – most would call these dog arguments a “dog fight”. However we label them they are unpleasant experiences for all involved – dogs and owners/walkers alike. The majority of dog fights that occur are ritual aggressive skirmishes – injuries (serious ones) rarely occur. However even if our dogs have no intention of harming one another – these aggressive displays cause tension and stress in dog parks and should be avoided whenever possible.
So how does one go about avoiding dog fights in dog parks? There are a number of points to remember:
- Avoid busy parks or stick to a quieter areas. The more dogs you have crowded together in a small space the likelier you are to see dogs get frustrated/over aroused/ and upset with each other. Many dog fights can be avoided simply by making sure that your dogs have space around them and are not crowded by many dogs running and playing rough.
- Watch for rough players in the park. Some dogs wrestle hard and run hard. There is nothing inherently wrong with this if the parties involved are enjoying the interaction – however intense play can more easily spill over into a fight as the dogs are already in a state of high arousal. If a dog (or multiple dogs) looks like they are playing too roughly find some space away from them or leash up and leave the park if necessary.
- Interrupt rough over aroused play. What if it’s your dogs playing in an over the top manner? When in doubt interrupt the play and give the dogs a small break or give them another focus. Sometimes just stepping in between rough players and guiding their attention over for a quiet sit while you give them a few treats for a nice calm behaviour can work wonders. The dogs get a chance to reset and often when they resume playing the play is less intense.
- Keep a close eye on the dogs in your group that tend to be the trouble makers. Get to know their triggers. For instance if you have a dog that doesn’t like puppies watch for puppies in the park and give your dog space away from those puppies. Pick up their leash (leaving a leash dragging on your trouble makers makes it easer to quickly catch them and guide them away from trouble) and guide them away if necessary and reward them for coming with you. Give them an alternate focus away from their trigger (a toy to play with – or an appropriate play mate). If they are really struggling and slipping into a state of frustration/ agitation / over arousal it may just be best to leash up and leave the park for the day.
- Interrupt humping – there is nothing inherently wrong with humping but many dogs do not like to be humped. Humping can cause tension and arguments among dogs at the park. Interrupt humping and give that dog something else to focus on.
- Know the signs. Dogs don’t go from being happy and playful to suddenly fighting. Watch for signs that the interaction is souring or is about to sour.
If you see:
- Dogs giving each other hard direct stares with stiff bodies with high stiff tails.
- Dogs snarling/bearing their teeth (know your dogs – some dogs growl and bare their teeth in friendly play)
- Play getting too rough or fast
- A dog trying to escape (with a tucked tail, ears pulled back/flattened) the attention of another dog who is pursuing him/her, step in, interrupt and give the dogs in question space from one another.
Part Two: Dealing with a fight in progress – Coming Soon!